The college football world keeps waiting for a Chaos Saturday. Instead, it keeps getting Separation Saturdays: There’s drama and close calls, but the top teams keep winning, including in the SEC. The upsets have been almost nonexistent.
And when they do exist, they have no impact on the College Football Playoff. But they do allow us to whip out comedic references you probably haven’t seen but should. In advance: You’re welcome.
But we’ll start with the top, and a reminder that — all together now — this is not a pure ranking of how good each team is but the vibes around the program, taking into account expectations, recent performances and generally how good, bad or apathetic the populace feels.
1. Georgia (11-0, 8-0 SEC)
Won 38-10 at Tennessee
There are other nuanced reasons, but the way Georgia has played against ranked teams confirms it was bored earlier this season when it fiddled around with a couple of teams that still haven’t clinched bowl eligibility. The dominance is getting to the point where it feels like the CFP committee is going to be compelled to jam Georgia into the Playoff even if it loses the SEC championship. But the dominance is also to the point where Georgia losing that game seems more and more unlikely, even if the opponent is …
Emerson: Georgia, where fans no longer expect the bad thing to happen
2. Alabama (10-1, 7-0)
Beat Chattanooga 66-10
This is setting up to be an intriguing SEC championship: Is the way Alabama is playing more a product of the schedule, or because, well, this is Alabama. And there’s the Jalen Milroe factor. But first, the Iron Bowl, which just went from intriguing to something less than that. But it’s another measuring stick game: Georgia and Alabama have played three common opponents this year (Ole Miss, Tennessee and Kentucky). Georgia’s margin of victory is 33.6 points per game, while Alabama’s is 18.6. But Georgia only won at Auburn by a touchdown. So consider that as you watch. Or consider that this may be way overthinking it.
Beat Florida 33-31
Maybe the most exciting, consequential finish in the SEC this year as Missouri converted on fourth-and-17, then got downfield for the game-winning field goal that may have clinched a spot in the expanded CFP … oh wait, that’s next year. Well, it may clinch a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl … if we still care about that. Missouri probably does. And hey, the consequences of actually winning that game mattered a lot. What a season for Eli Drinkwitz and this program.
4. LSU (8-3, 5-2)
Beat Georgia State 56-14
The Jayden Daniels-for-Heisman Trophy vibes are very good. These days you have to be massively impressive to be in contention if you’re team is not, and Daniels has been that. And that’s how it should be: It’s not Daniels’ fault his team’s defense has been putrid. As for the team vibes, this has the feel of a mildly disappointing but not demoralizing year, with changes to be made accordingly. (You’d just like to see LSU’s recruiting class ranked higher than the 14th in the 247Sports Composite.)
5. Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2)
Beat Louisiana Monroe 35-3
Pulling away to beat a bad Sun Belt team (even after a slow start) was a fait accompli. Jaxson Dart coming back for another year was not, so the Oxford vibes got a lift last week with that announcement. It would help if people didn’t think Lane Kiffin was putting out feelers about the Texas A&M job. Call it all a mixed vibes reading, trending in a good direction but not completely.
6. Texas A&M (7-4, 4-3)
Beat Abilene Christian 38-10
The Aggies enter Week 2 of not having a head coach. This is good for the vibes. Excitement reigns over who they’ll be able to get, whether that person will be able to turn this program into the next Georgia and all the optimistic thoughts the fans can pour into the empty vessel that is Coach To Be Named. What can dampen all this enthusiasm? Naming a coach. So we’ll see.
7. Tennessee (7-4, 3-4)
Lost 38-10 to Georgia
This season is a come-down season from the highs of last year, when the Vols spent a week at No. 1, Josh Heupel’s offense was a revelation and the program came out the wilderness. Now we have this: possibly falling out of the top 25, Heupel’s offense possibly solved and Vols fans getting nervous. It’s all not good. But it’s not very bad yet.
Beat Kentucky 17-14
Shane Beamer is a closer: 8-3 in November, including 6-1 the past two years, as former Gamecocks beat writer Ben Portnoy pointed out.But now the biggest one of this stretch: Beating Clemson gets South Carolina to a bowl and extends bragging rights in the Palmetto State for another year. Losing to Clemson, well, it wouldn’t be as bad after this winning streak. But it still wouldn’t be good.
9. Auburn (6-5, 3-4)
Lost 31-10 to New Mexico State
So here’s the deal: When coaches, commentators and others of their ilk say the SEC is a humbling league, they mean games against other SEC teams. In this space last week, it was pointed out that things were trending upward on the Plains, where the Tigers just got a resounding conference road win and flipped a five-star recruit. Humility, as they say, was indeed a week away, with a resounding home loss … to a team from not in the SEC. Or even a power conference. Conference USA. And it was a thorough humiliation: New Mexico State almost doubled Auburn in total yardage (414-213). As the late great Fred Willard would say in “A Mighty Wind” … “Hey, wha’ happened?”
Beat Southern Miss 41-20
The Coach To Be Named vibes are harder to read here. Few are expecting a home run hire, understanding the program is fishing in a different pool than Texas A&M. Zach Arnett was the coach for less than a year, not enough time to create an air of desperation. But the lower expectations could make it easier for new athletic director Zac Selmon to win the news conference. A home-run hire may not be necessary, maybe just an extra-base hit.
11. Florida (5-6, 3-5)
Lost 33-31 at Missouri
Fourth-and-17. That’s all the Florida secondary had to do, keep Missouri from getting 17 yards on one play, and it was over. Maybe keep an eye on Luther Burden and put a man or two on one of the best receivers in the country just in case Missouri thought of passing the ball to him. That’s all. Not asking for much. And yet … sigh.
Beat FIU 44-20
A win over a middling Sun Belt team is fine, just fine. But a look at the scoreboard to see that Auburn, the team you just got routed by on your home field, itself got routed by New Mexico State? That doesn’t exactly help the cause. A competitive showing against Missouri this week is a must.
13. Kentucky (6-5, 3-5)
Lost 17-14 at South Carolina
Kentucky started this season 5-0. It started last season 4-0 and finished 7-6. Yup, this program has hit a wall, and it’s up to Mark Stoops to fix that. It’s often said that Stoops has a great job because he doesn’t have to win big. But he has to win enough to justify $9 million per year.
14. Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7)
No jokes about “Vanderbilt didn’t lose this week, haha.” Instead a quick thought, since coaches are getting quick hooks elsewhere: Clark Lea’s third year has been abysmal, but the second year may buy him time, and he does appear to be trying to do things in a way that can make Vanderbilt competitive: The recruiting class (38th in the composite) currently ranks ahead of Washington, Missouri, West Virginia and other programs with seemingly higher aspirations. But if Lea is going to eventually get it going at his alma mater, you’d like to see more evidence on the field, such as with an extra week to prepare against an injury-riddled Tennessee team coming off two straight big losses. That’s not to say this is a referendum on Lea. It’s just that it’s important for the vibes.
(Top photo of Hugh Freeze: Michael Chang / Getty Images)